Some years ago I was representing a client charged with the very serious offence of causing grievous bodily harm with intent. The Prosecution alleged he used his dog as a weapon, ordering it to attack another person. It struck me that we needed to show the dog was incapable of being “used” as a weapon, and I advised we needed to instruct a canine psychologist to investigate.

It is this type of ability that barristers have that lends us to dealing with wide and varied areas, not just limited to the law. We are experienced at cross-examining on areas that we instinctively have little knowledge, and so learn very quickly to assimilate and comprehend the knowledge and expertise of others. In court, we don’;t have experts cross-examining other experts. It’s the barrister who questions the DNA expert regarding her statistical analysis, and probabilities of cross-transfer of evidential samples.

The primary strength of the best advocates is our capability in understanding very quickly what somebody working in a totally different sphere does, and filtering out the salient parts of that work to our advantage.

Recently I have been working on issues regarding intellectual property. The law covers all aspects of IP, but it’s important to understand the nature of the property in question. It could be a sample in a piece of music, or the development of a piece of software. You have to understand and establish not just the origins of the property in question, but how it is used and developed in context. Ultimately, you are engaged in a process of simplification, of making the subject digestible to a lay audience, whether that’s a judge or a jury. Neither are likely to have any direct knowledge of the subject. It’s fundamental therefore to be able to develop a clear understanding of the subject, and how it works before presenting it to your tribunal.

The scope for this ability is huge. If you can quickly grasp how a piece of software is developed, and the IP issues that arise, not only can you successfully litigate if need be, but you can also transfer that knowledge to licensing the software, drafting contracts that protect it from misuse by end users and so on.

In the current age, where media is consuming more and more of our lives, and is increasingly entrenched in our way of conducting business; having an ability quickly to assimilate knowledge about such subjects is fundamentally useful and keeps us ahead of the game.